Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Translating Emotion

Even though my passion lies with photography, as a visual artist I'm drawn to the art forms and design approaches to gain an edge or add to my bag of tricks. My thinking is that it significantly helps develop the creative and visual muscles in different ways that can only benefit my seeing as a photographer.   After awhile without purposeful intent to challenge my photographic approach or vision, I find the descent into the comfort zone of normalcy and auto pilot is just beyond the precipice where one doesn't take the time to visually problem solve and in effect truly think and create. To that end then I'm taking another graphic design course to further develop my creative muscles in the hopes I find a few moments of wow and attempt to translate and implement that concept into my future photographic vision.

Case in point.  I just experienced an amazing exercise using just typography, spacing, sizing, and placement to elicit the emotion or meaning of a single word or idea.  Say for example you have the word "horror" and using a font that was designed with dripping blood or such would easily convey the meaning of the word.  The significant word here is "easy" as anyone can use one of the thousands of fonts available, and without any thought or design skills convey the word's meaning.  However if you are restricted to just a plain typeface font the exercise becomes more challenging perhaps on the same level of brain teasing puzzles.  Take a few minutes to really see what's behind my design of the following three word examples and see how white space, placement and sizing play a part in creating the illusion of the word. Without getting too deep, even consider the psychology of the design and why it works in conveying the meaning of the word.

© 2012, Joanne Scherf

© 2012, Joanne Scherf

© 2012, Joanne Scherf

So here's the other challenge.  Based on this graphic design example of using very basic design elements, can this concept be translated and applied to photographic use?  Unless one is shooting in a studio environment where the beginning is a totally blank space such as the above exercise (blank white sheet of paper), the photographer typically is out in the environment doing a deconstructive approach to narrowly focus on the subject matter.  So basically how can one convey an emotion of a word or concept using the physical 2D aspect of photography?  Challenging yes, impossible no; it just takes a little creative muscle to convey an emotion or essence of a concept as applied in the above examples.  To me this is where photography becomes exciting and more challenging for me personally when I have to go beyond the medium and really stretch my creative muscles. 

Historically it's already been done in photography, perhaps the most famous being that of Alfred Stieglitz and his Equivalent series or the mastery of Minor White's work.  Stieglitz was the pioneer in "emotional photography" and he obtained the desired result by freeing the subject matter from literal interpretation thus rendering the image as an abstract form.  In his Equivalent series of cloud images, Stieglitz destabilized the viewer's relationship with nature in order to obliterate all references to reality thus forcing one to think more about the feeling the image invokes.  Minor White, the master of this genre typically focused on subject matter of everyday mundane objects such as barns, doorways, water, sky and such.  However he successfully achieved the "emotional equivalent" concept by using a special quality of light and captured a sentiment or emotionally symbolic idea using elements that carry a feeling or sense of recognition.  In the imagery of both Stieglitz and White, they rendered the specific objects themselves as of secondary importance to photographer and viewer alike.  White said of his photography..."recognized an object or series of forms that, when photographed, would yield an image with specific suggestive powers that can direct the viewer into a specific and known feeling, state, or place within himself."

So with Stieglitz and White as my inspiration here's two examples I captured years ago of my personal version of taking a 2D object and capturing it in such a manner as to imply a feeling, state of mind, or place within oneself.  I also like to use the captivating nature of natural light and image abstraction to achieve the essence of the concept.

© 2009, Joanne Scherf

© 2010, Joanne Scherf

"When you approach something to photograph, first be still with yourself until the object of your attention affirms your presence.  Then don't leave until you have captured its essence".  Minor White

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